The U.S. Bureau of Land Management has terminated the suspensions on 10 of 17 leases held by Andalex Resources, which wants to mine large quantities of coal from the Kaiparowits Plateau in southern Utah.

What does it mean?To Andalex, not much. The leases on the land it actually intends to mine are still in suspension, which means that the clock is not running out on those leases.

But to environmentalists, it signifies a new round in the fight to stop Andalex from lifting so much as a pick-ax to the Kaiparowits.

The Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance, which considers the proposed Smoky Hollow mine as the single largest threat to Utah wilderness, has retained a Washington, D.C., law firm to challenge the BLM's decision this week.

Under federal coal-mining law amendments designed to prevent speculation, lease holders have but 10 years to develop a commercially feasible coal mine or they lose their leases. However, the law allows for suspensions of the leases, essentially stopping the regulatory clock, if it's in the public interest.

In May 1992, Jim Parker, then director of the Utah office of the BLM, suspended 17 Andalex leases to allow time for the preparation of an environmental impact statement on Andalex's coal mining proposal. Andalex obtained the leases in 1986 from the former proponents of a massive coal-mining electrical-generating proposal that died in the 1970s.

"These coal leases . . . may be important to meeting future energy needs in this country," said Parker in granting Andalex the suspensions.

As part of the approval, Andalex was required to submit yearly certification that the conditions warranting the suspension continue to exist.

Andalex failed to do that annual certification.

So Mat Millenbach, current director of the BLM's Utah office, decided to terminate the suspensions on the 10 lease tracts that lie outside the area being studied in the environmental impact statement.

The BLM's limiting the terminations to 10 lease tracts has infuriated environmentalists.

"From our view, all 17 lease suspensions should be terminated," said SUWA spokesman Ken Rait.

If the leases within the proposed project area were terminated, the clock would begin running on them, retroactive to May 1993, forcing Andalex into a "day of reckoning," Rait said. "It would have put this thing to the forefront, which is where it should be."

SUWA, however, not only wants the terminations effective to all 17 tracts but made retroactive to 1990, the year to which Parker made the suspensions retroactive.

"If we got them terminated retroactive to 1990, that would kill the project," Rait said, noting that the leases would end in a few years.

SUWA is also appealing Parker's original suspension decision, saying it encourages speculation and gives Andalex time to wait for more ideal market conditions. Suspensions cannot be granted for such reasons, SUWA argues.

The BLM also ordered Andalex to pay $156,000 in back rent for the 10 tracts of land.

Andalex project manager Dave Shaver said his company is disappointed the BLM terminated the suspensions on the 10 leases because those were areas where the mine could later be expanded.